Traveling with Children
Done properly, traveling with children can be great fun for all!

I’ve written about this before, and I have a feeling I might catch some heat again.  However, before you throw stones at me, read the whole post.

For years, I’ve been traveling on planes listening to screaming, misbehaving, and crying kids. I must admit something very dark; I hated kids on planes. Just the sight of them made me cringe.  I would spy them in the waiting areas and try to judge how misbehaved they’d be and what my odds were that they would be sitting within one row of me or worse, next to me! I’d also look at their parents to see how attentive they were.

I recall one flight when I was sitting next to a man (he in the aisle and I in the middle seat – so, as you can imagine, I was already pissed) and the two children behind us wouldn’t be quiet and were amazingly rambunctious. The man next to me continued to read his Wall Street Journalas if there was nothing wrong.  As the kids bounced and yelled, he kept reading.  Then the kids started playing “go fish.” As they did, they threw their cards, proceeded to slam the tray table connected to my seat repeatedly.  All the mother did was kept repeating “Calm down, you are bothering the nice man in front of you.”  (Ya think?) However, after one hundred times of saying this, I’m sure all the kids heard was “way to go, make more noise.” One last slam and I turned around and said to the mother something like “Look, I’m normally a nice guy, but the fact you continue to sit there and do nothing while your children bang on my chair is unbelievable to me.”  Her response? “Sorry, but they’re only children.”

The slamming stopped for a few minutes, and I turned to the guy sitting and reading his newspaper.  (Note: he hadn’t moved and, to my amazement, was still calmly reading.) I commented to him, “Do you believe this?”  His response? “I’ve got four kids at home. This is nothing. I honestly don’t hear a thing.”  I couldn’t believe his response and thought for a moment that he might have been their father. You know, a dad who travels with the family but acts as if he doesn’t know them?

As for me at the time, I never thought I could deal with kids on a plane. That is, until my wife became pregnant with our first child. I knew, at that moment, I was going to have to grow up and get with the program.  One thing I learned from my travel experiences was 90% of a child’s behavior on the plane was in direct proportion to the effort put forth by the parents. Yes, Mom and Dad, your children are your responsibility on planes or in hotels or anywhere else for that matter. Ignoring them in your own home is fine, but ignoring them while they significantly effect someone else’s travel by slamming the back of someone’s seat isn’t.


Fast forward many years, I now have two children, 12 and 10. Both are avid flyers, and I wanted to share our tips, especially for younger children. The following is a list of what we did when our children were younger to make sure we, and the people around us, had a good experience. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it worked for us, so here goes.

  1. Plan. Plan out the trip and leave yourself extra time to get around, get to the gates, etc. “Winging it” with small kids is never a good idea. You’re better off being early than frantically trying to make a flight. And speaking of flights, try to time them so the kids will be sleeping. I’m not suggesting the red-eye flights, but early morning or later flights always worked well for us.
  2. Snacks! Kids love snacks. Pack plenty of them (stick to finger foods) and not the messy kind. (Think pretzels, gold fish). Since you can’t take fluids with you through security, remember to buy extra bottles of water after you get through security. Stay away from the sugary juices so they don’t get more active. Plus, drinking extra water on flights is beneficial to people of all ages to prevent dehydration.  If your children prefers milk, make sure you purchase some of that too since the drink cart on the plane doesn’t always have some.
  3. Packing. In general, don’t overpack like crazy. Yes, you’ll see me say below to bring extra clothes, but don’t go crazy.
  4. Kill Germs. Airports and planes are dirty. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything around your child on the plane: arm rests, tray tables, wall, window shade – everything. Carry Purell and wipe/disinfect their hands and yours regularly. OK, germs killed. We still do this today as a way to keep us all from getting sick.
  5. Bring Extra Supplies. For younger kids, the diaper bag has to be filled, complete with any supply that might ever be needed for any possible reason.  Extra diapers and supplies (30% more than you think you need – just in case of delays), paper towels, a cloth towel just in case you have to mop up a spill, plastic bags and Ziploc baggies and an infinite supply of wipes. Plus don’t forget and extra change of clothes.  Bring a little air-freshener too. Trust me, you may be used to your little-one’s spit-up smell, but everyone around you won’t appreciate it. My wife also has a toiletry bag that she stuffs with basic medication, just in case. A small supply of things like Tylenol, Benadryl and anything else you’ve used is good to have. You don’t want to have to find a 24-hour Walgreens at 3:00 a.m. with a sick kiddo.
  6. Keep ‘em Busy. Children’s attention spans are short at a young age.  When the kids were younger, I planned the 15-minute activity list; one surprise activity per 15 minutes. Keep them busy and they are less likely to aggravate you and the other people on the plane. Activities can be repeated, but only once an hour.  For us, these included: NEW crayons on coloring books, NEW hard picture books, sticker books, etch-a-sketch mini, and one of those books with the special marker that reveals hidden pictures as you color. New is key. Kids love opening new things, and you’ll get a lot more mileage out of it. One, used coloring book and a few crayons isn’t going to cut it; they’ll be bored so quickly, and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t bring something else for them. Bring things you might enjoy as well to do WITH them. My friend said she loves to bring paper and pen for tic-tac-toe so they can do it together. Bring a stuffed animal too (a washable one).
  7. Technology. On a plane, technology IS your friend. Bring an iPad. Download a couple of kid-friendly movies in advance, more for longer international flights. Luckily, many airlines offer on-board entertainment, so you should be all set. The on-board technology isn’t always working, so plan for that too. For shorter domestic flights, some airlines, like United, require you to have their latest app installed on your device to be able to access the entertainment system. Do this at home so you’re not scrambling in the moments before takeoff. Also, remember to pack COMFORTABLE headphones for your kids. Even though they’re easy to pack, tight-fitting earbuds don’t work well for young children and there is research which suggests earbuds aren’t safe for kids, especially at high volume.
  8. Popping Ears. Infants cry during take-off and landing because their ears hurt.  So, make sure they’re drinking a bottle during those times to alleviate their ear-popping pain. It always worked like a charm for both of my kids.For kids that are a little older, water and snacks will help with ear popping, as will sucking on hard candy or chewing a piece of gum.
  9. Extra clothes. As mentioned, bring extra clothes for the kids…and for you. Sometimes, young children get sick, so plan for it. Sometimes children get sick on youwhich my wife learned on one flight when my son threw up on her. From then on, we each carried an extra t-shirt with us, just in case.
  10. Thou shall not kick. Do you have young children? If your child is a fan of kicking the seat in front of them (why do they do this?), take off their shoes. One kick and it will hurt, and they’ll stop doing it. And don’t let your children bang on the seat-back trays.
  11. Hear no evil. No matter how well-behaved you think your kids are, they may cry. We always carried extra sets of inexpensive earbuds (or bought some from the flight attendants in the old days). On one flight where our son kept crying, we gave earbuds to the man sitting next to us. He kept saying “you don’t need to do that.” They were inexpensive though and he appreciated the offer.
  12. Thank you and Sorry! Sometimes, children are just going to misbehave. It happens.  Yes, they are just kids (Okay? There, I said it.)  Or, they’ll be sick, or something just won’t go as planned on the plane. You’ll make a few people miserable. You won’t want to, but you will. When we flew with our young children, we carried a dozen gift cards (from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks).  Most were for $10, but a few were for $50.  We used these as “thank-you” and “I’m sorry” for people that either helped us (like the flight where my wife was flying alone with my infant daughter and a flight attendant held my daughter when my wife had to use the rest-room.) Once, on a flight that was delayed for three hours ON THE RUNWAY, our daughter spilled her apple juice on the man next to her.  It was just juice, and she didn’t mean it, but she was fidgety. He wasn’t upset, but I felt I should at least pay for his dry-cleaning. He didn’t want to accept anything but was pleasantly surprised at the gift-card.
  13. Parents – this one is for you. Work together. Take turns holding your young children or taking your children to the bathroom. Do more than your fair share. Traveling with kids can be fun. To this day, my daughter and I love to look out the window on take-offs and landings. We love to look at the clouds or the city lights below us on evening flights.

As you can tell, I’m a firm believer in over-parenting on flights. It’s the right (and polite) thing to do. Your children and your seat-mates will thank you.  I acknowledge that things always won’t go as planned, so you should plan for that as well.  It won’t be easy all the time, but you have to make the effort. Traveling with children can be a great experience.

For those parents who think that ignoring their misbehaved children on the plane is okay and the rest of us should just deal with it – well, no. You deal with your kids.  At least, please, make a real effort.  We understand they’re just kids, but you are the adult.

For the rest of you on the plane, including people like the anti-child-on-plane person I used to be, people traveling with kids (especially single parents) need help, so offer assistance. Every little bit helps.  You’ll see how much they appreciate it.  My mother always says, “Be nice to people, and they’ll be nice to you.”

So, do you have any tips to add? If so, put them in the comments section—I’d love to hear about them.

Finally, if you’re not following this blog or if we’re not yet connected on LinkedIn, let’s fix that. You can enter your email on the right side of this page to follow this blog. You can also follow me on LinkedIn here: John Peters on LinkedIn.  I look forward to getting to know you.


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